Louay Dawaf, left, receives a donation to aid Iraqi refugees at Jesus the King Melkite Church on April 12. Photo courtesy of I Am Iraqi, I Am Christian

Iraqi Knights rally funds to aid refugees

  • June 6, 2015

TORONTO - When the Islamic State attacked the city of Mosul in June 2014, members of Toronto’s Jesus the King Council of the Knights of Columbus knew they had to respond.

“As the first Middle Eastern Christian (Knights’) council with many Iraqi members, we have a moral obligation to help no matter how small our council is,” said Hikmat Dandan in an e-mail to council members. “Remember big things are always started by one or two people.”

A meeting was convened to discuss ways of helping their relatives and friends who had almost overnight become refugees after the lightning advance of Islamic State militants across Iraq and Syria. The council came up with its I Am Iraqi, I Am Christian campaign to raise awareness of Christian persecution in Iraq and to raise support for Iraqi refugee camps.

“The Christians of Iraq are a very early, continuous community since 80 years after the birth of Christ. They have always been there,” said Dandan. “They have been completely pushed out of their area. So when it’s not on the media, people forget, but the problem is still there. Part of it is to make North America aware of this problem all the time.”

The campaign has launched a web site — iamiraqiiamchristian.org — and fundraising campaign and has been visiting Chaldean and Syrian churches around the Toronto area to speak to congregations and ask for their support. For a suggested donation of $5, individuals receive a solidarity button with the “noon” symbol.

The campaign’s logo is a “noon,” the first Arabic letter for the word “Nazrani” or Christian. This symbol was made famous as a symbol of solidarity with Iraqi Christians being persecuted during the Islamic State’s invasion of Iraq.

“Many of these families, we know them,” said Louay Dawaf, one of the campaign’s founders. “I personally have relatives who lost everything in Mosul... and now they’re living in tents. So, it’s nice to be able to see them benefit from our efforts here.”

Dawaf said the goal is to raise as much money as they can without losing a penny.

“Since we started this project, we had one concern. How to deliver funds without losing a penny, no middle people, whatever,” he said.

They decided one way to avoid these costs is to reach out to Dawaf’s father-in-law, Nashet Farage. Through Farage’s connections in Iraq, he is able to act as an ambassador for the campaign.

“He’s got a big name there with the churches, so he’s supporting many things there, like caravans, camps,” said Dawaf. “When he heard about our project, he said, ‘Leave it with me.’ ”

After the fall of Mosul, Farage temporarily housed about 400 Christian families on his land. He then connected these people with local church communities to house displaced families more long-term.

Dawaf said these newly formed connections in Iraq are so grateful for their support that “they will take anything.”

After receiving pictures and videos of the refugee camps in Iraq, the founding team met and decided its first project will be to distribute air cooler units to the camps. From what their Iraqi contacts are saying, the community is in great need of medical supplies, while clean water is also scarce.

“The short-term plan is to visit all these Iraqi churches (in the Toronto area) and ask for support,” said Louay Lynsdale, another of the founding members. “In long-term, to get access on the web site itself where the people can donate.”

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